Changing Seattle: A Recap

On Tuesday, November 17, 2015, Historic Seattle hosted its second InterUrban event at Southside Commons in Columbia City. We had an amazing turnout – especially for a windy, rainy November night – with over 75 people in attendance. One attendee summed it up succinctly, “Wow! Thank you!” and was impressed with the diversity of the presenters and audience participation.

This event would not have been possible without our dedicated volunteers and sponsors, Spinnaker Bay Brewing and Columbia City Bakery. A big thanks goes to our planning committee members: Cara Bertron, Real Estate Lab Coordinator for IDEA Space at SCIDpda, and Michael Powe, Senior Research Manager at the National Trust’s Preservation Green Lab. They worked to develop the presentation topic and format, as well as connect us with the exceptional lineup of speakers.

What really made this event a success was the collection of speakers who provided their particular perspectives to explore the intersection of place, community, and change. They included Roger Fernandes, Native American Artist and Storyteller; Cynthia Updegrave, Botanist; Florangela Davila, Forterra; Tomi Adewale, Ujima Pictures; Grace Kim, Schemata Workshop; Maiko Winkler-Chin, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority (SCIDpda); Karl Hackett, Vision Hillman City and Jacob Willard Home; Ethan Phelps-Goodman, Seattle in Progress; and Michael Sullivan, Artifacts Consulting.

Each of the speakers prepared a “lightning talk” – 20 slides, with each slide shown for 15 seconds – to tackle questions such as: How is our city changing? What are they doing to change it? How does place—whether old and historic or shiny and new—play into the equation?

Highlights included Roger’s Native American storytelling and emphasis on keeping alive traditional knowledge for future generations; Cynthia’s overview of geological history over 20,000 years (in six minutes!); and Tomi’s short documentary, A Conspiracy, produced by Ujima Pictures, exposing the damaging impact of displacement in the Central District.

Some of the presenters contributed their professional perspectives on the types of change taking place – both the challenges and opportunities. Grace discussed zoning incentives intended to preserve historic character for Capitol Hill’s auto row buildings, only to leave behind remnants of the building that do little to preserve the diversity of residents or cultural heritage. Maiko described SCIDpda’s work to preserve, promote and develop the Chinatown International District as a vibrant community and unique ethnic neighborhood. Ethan brought his “data-centered” perspective on neighborhood development, based on his mobile web app Seattle in Progress, to look at what density and demolition look like in Seattle.

Others shared more personal stories. Florangela looked at place and character – through a Japanese sweet shop, some of her favorite places, and lost places. Karl talked about a neighborhood group, Vision Hillman City, formed to address fast-paced changes in a historic community, and described how his vintage and mid-century furniture business, Jacob Willard Home, has become a beloved community hub.

Preservationist and historian Michael Sullivan wrapped up the conversation by saying that Seattle is at a critical juncture, showing an image of a rake and leaf blower to depict the dramatic shift in the pace of development and what it means to our city’s built environment and sense of uniqueness.

The event provided a lot of food for thought indeed; Historic Seattle looks forward to hosting more InterUrban events in the coming year. We hope to see you there to continue the conversation!

InterUrban seeks to inspire conversations about achieving more livable communities through historic preservation. The series connects historic preservation to urban planning and policy discussions impacting our region such as affordability, equitable development, social justice, sustainability, and neighborhood density.